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Thyagaraj Stadium, New Delhi: An Arena Befitting Indian Basketball’s Growing Stature

Thyagaraj Stadium, New Delhi: An Arena Befitting Indian Basketball’s Growing Stature Court Chronicles

Thousands of spectators ominously rise up on opposite sides, all peering down on a rectangular playing arena far below. The third quarter is underway. In the crowd, “Go KIRORI MAL” and “VICTORY FOR SATHYABHAMA” banners wave up and down. Young kids press their face against the steel grills as if trying to absorb the electrifying atmosphere through the pores of their skin.

High up in the stands, two bilingual commentators simultaneously relay the game in high pitch while news cameras span the action.

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“It was unlike anything I had ever seen before. Walking down the tunnel, I honestly felt like we were in a movie. I mean, I had played on other indoor courts before, but this was something else,” said P Baladhaneshwar, a school student from Tamil Nadu who used Thyagaraj as a stage to catapult himself to a roster spot on India’s senior national team.

Thyagaraj Stadium

Curiously named after a famous Tamil poet and music composer, the Thyagaraj Sports Complex was built from scratch in the heart of New Delhi at a cost of 300 crores. Originally meant to be a netball venue at the 2010 Commonwealth Games, Thyagaraj has since turned into a hub for national and local basketball activity.

The twin indoor courts are not open to the public and must be rented out. The rent itself hovers around 1 lakh rupees per day, with the centre hosting multiple 3-on-3 and 5-on-5 corporate tournaments.

But on this occasion, it wasn’t just another registration based event, but the National School and College Basketball Finals that were underway. It seemed fitting that India’s champs would be decided in its national capital.

A Startling Discovery

Thyagaraj Stadium

Just like the game of basketball itself in India, the Thyagaraj Sports Complex too has to be ‘discovered’ in a sense. It is tucked away behind the busy INA market in South Delhi, smack in between the peaceful Lodhi Colony to the north and the chaotic Kotla Mubarakpur marketplace along its southern periphery. Thyagaraj Stadium almost has a serene beauty to it; a marvel of architecture hidden behind long unassuming walls. The countless cycle rickshaws, SUVs, pedestrians and chai wallahs that form an endless moving chain around it, seem to leave the complex — which comprises a massive futuristic glass facade building, a 400m synthetic track and a lush green football field — largely untouched, in an island of its own.

Delhi’s extreme weather conditions make an indoor facility like Thyagaraj vital. Considered India’s first ‘green’ venue, the stadium’s cutting edge construction technology includes environment friendly rainwater management systems and sewage treatment plants. But what truly makes Thyagaraj a monument of sustainable development is its 10,521 square metre solar power plant; designed in such a way that it feeds any excess energy back to the grid.

Thyagaraj represents the best that India has to offer in terms of sports facilities. It exemplifies how far the National Capital has come from its mud and clay court days of the 1950s, when it hosted the 1st Asian Games.

While there are other reputed courts in the capital such as the Indira Gandhi arena and Jaypee Greens, Thyagaraj is the indisputable home of competitive basketball, right from school, college to the seniors, across both men and women.

“Playing at the indoor wooden court really lit a fire in the kids’ hearts and made them even more determined to take their game to the next level,” said Pradyut Voleti, founder of Dribble Academy, a Noida based non-profit that provides basketball coaching to underprivileged kids.

Basketball ‘Exclusivity Lacking

In a democratic setup like India, sharing is inevitable, and Thyagaraj isn’t solely a basketball centre by any stretch of imagination. A barrier splits the stadium right down the middle and on the far end — even as India’s most premier basketball tournaments are underway — over a dozen kids furiously practice their drop shots and lobs on three badminton courts, oblivious of the bouncing basketballs, hoots and shrill whistles. The venue also hosts many conventions and concerts as a way to generate revenue.

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The final buzzer sounded and we filed out from the snap back chairs. As we exited, the hallway lights switched off automatically behind us, returning the stadium to its enigmatic darkness. It will now reveal its majesty only to the next lot of players, coaches and spectators.

For a nation on the rise in basketball, finally there is an arena befitting its growing stature.

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